SERMON TITLE: Freedom through Death
TEXT: Romans 6:1-4 (ESV)
SPEAKER: Josh Hanson
It’s great to be with all of you this weekend at Gateway Church. And one thing I want you to know is that God loves you and I love you too.
Today we’re continuing in the book of Romans, but as we’ve finished chapter 5 — and are beginning chapter 6 — we’ll notice a shift in Paul’s focus. Paul — the author of Romans — is going to shift from justification — our being declared righteous by God — to the freedom God gives to those he has justified.
Now when we talk about freedom — we have to watch ourselves to make sure that how we define freedom — is biblical. What am I talking about?
Well in our culture, the word freedom — basically means — you can and should do whatever makes you happy. Freedom is what you experience when you do whatever you most deeply desire — that’s our culture’s definition of freedom.
Now there is a sense in which the Bible agrees with freedom being connected to doing what we most deeply desire. And the Bible prizes freedom — just like our culture does.
But here’s where the Bible and our culture part ways. To be free — according to the Bible — doesn’t mean we can and should do whatever we want. As someone has said, “Freedom is not necessarily the ability to do anything you want...freedom happens in our lives when we obey our deepest desires, the ones God put in us from the beginning, most of which are unconscious, because the thing we most desire to do is to be fulfilled by submitting to our Creator...Therefore, though everybody agrees (Christians and everyone else) freedom is the fulfillment that comes from doing what you most deeply desire, the Bible says that only happens when you’re willing to be completely dependent on God.” (Tim Keller, “Dependence Day,” Daily Keller, October 11, 2017, http://dailykeller.com/category/freedom/)
So there’s the goal of the Christian faith — to be completely dependent on God — which is the Bible’s definition of what it means to be free. And this freedom is found in Christ alone where — in having turned to Jesus for your freedom — and turned away from your enslavement to sin — you discover that freedom isn’t about doing whatever you want to do — instead freedom is about doing what God wants you to do.
And though that may sound restricting — or even scary — once you know who God is — and that he’s good and gracious and tender and loving and patient and merciful — once you know him — you’ll begin to see that the freedom he wants for you is the only freedom that can give you your heart’s deepest desires.
So let’s begin our journey of discovering what it means to be free.
ANNOUNCE THE TEXT
If you have your Bible please turn with me to Romans chapter 6. We’ll be looking at verses 1-4.
And, if you’re a guest with us, something we like to do at Gateway is let you ask questions that we answer on our weekly podcast. So if you have a question, you can text it in to the number printed on the bottom of the sermon notes sheet or you can submit it on the Gateway app.
RE-ANNOUNCE AND READ THE TEXT
Here are the words found in Romans 6. Beginning in verse 1.
“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:1-4)
Three things in our text we’ll be looking at. First, what does it mean to have died to sin? Second, what does it mean to be baptized into Jesus’ death? And third, how does death lead to newness of life?
What does it mean that — as a Christian — you’ve died to sin? What does baptism — our baptism — have to do with Jesus’ death? And how does death lead to a new life — a life we’ll look at more fully next week.
DEAD TO SIN
Back to verse 1. “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Romans 6:1-2)
So after talking about justification — in chapter 5 — and we’ve learned that justification is our declared righteousness before God — we’re now shifting to sanctification. So what is sanctification? Just like with justification — an easy way to know what sanctification is — is by using a catechism — short questions and answers about our faith. Sanctification is our “gradual, growing righteousness” — our gradual, growing righteousness.
Where justification is an act by God alone — he declares us to be right with him — we play no part in our justification — sanctification — on the other hand — is a joint endeavor. Meaning sanctification is a partnership between God and us.
So — follow me here. God sanctifies us and we work towards greater sanctification. Let me show you some passages that make this clear.
Paul tells the Christians in Philippi, “And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work (that’s sanctification) until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” (Philippians 1:6 NLT)
God will continue his work in you until his work is finished. That’s God’s role in our sanctification.
But then — a little later — in the same letter — Paul writes, “Work hard to show the results of your salvation (there’s our part in sanctification), obeying God with deep reverence and fear.” But watch what Paul does — because he doesn’t want the Philippians to think that their sanctification is all on them — Paul finishes his thought with “For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.” (Philippians 2:12b-13 NLT)
So when it comes to our sanctification — our gradual, growing in holiness and godliness and righteous living — our sanctification is a partnership between God and us.
Lean too far in the direction of it being solely God’s work and you’ll become lazy, justify sinful living, and find yourself prone to ignoring God’s commands.
Lean too far in the direction of sanctification being solely our work and you’ll either become self-righteous — “look at how great I’m doing” — or wallow in self-pity — “look at how horrible I’m doing” — and fluctuate between extremes of feeling on fire for God and feeling like God can’t stand you.
But here’s one reason why your sanctification matters. We may have among us some folks who know — with certainty — that they’re not a Christian — I’m glad you’re here — by the way. If that’s you — one of your observations about us Christians is probably something about our hypocrisy. You — and you’re right to call us out on this by the way — you look at us and you see us doing what Paul tells us not to do back in verse 1. You’re like, “Hey Christians, from my perspective it looks like many of you think sinning more is the way to go.”
So — if you’re a Christian — here’s the best way to counter this criticism. Pursue sanctification. Pursue holy living. Pursue godliness. If we Christians were “working hard to show the results of our salvation” — yes — unbelievers would see that we sin — but even more so — they’d see that we’re battling sin. That we’re honest about our sin. That we’re working hard at “killing our sin so that it doesn’t kill us,” as someone has said. (John Owen)
But back to our verses in Romans. Paul asks, “If grace increases more and more when there’s sin, are we Christians supposed to sin more and more so that God has even more opportunity to shower us with his grace?” And Paul’s answer is “by no means!.” “No way!” Some language experts think “heck no” — or even stronger language — is what Paul is saying.
Paul asks, “How can you continue to live under the reign and rule of sin when you’re someone who lives under the reign and rule of God’s grace?” You can’t. You can only serve one Master.
Now — back in chapter 5 — Paul spent time showing us how the law was no match for the power of sin. We learned that there’s no amount of law keeping we can do to overcome the power of sin in our lives. And — there — Paul was addressing one of our natural tendencies — which is to lean towards legalism — where we believe — “If I obey rules — I will earn God’s love” — that’s legalism. Sometimes the rules are God’s rules — but more often than not — the rules are our own rules — because we love to change the rules so we always earn God’s love.
But the problem with legalism is this: Legalism promotes self-righteousness — “Look at all that I’ve done to earn God’s love” — and it doesn’t rejoice in Jesus’ righteousness — “Look at all that Jesus has done to earn my salvation.” And that’s a terrible mistake to make — to promote yourself over Jesus.
But there’s another trap we can fall into — which is what Paul’s addressing in our verses. Where you’re so anti-law and rules — that — as some people say — “God loves you no matter what you do” — summed up by the guy who said, “I like committing crimes. God likes forgiving them. Really the world is admirably arranged.”(W.H. Auden) Where the lyrics go — “Jesus loves me this I know, so I’ll live however I want.”
My oldest recently got his driver’s license — it’s awesome, by the way — freedom for mom and dad. But when you’re given a driver’s license, you’re not given a license to drive “however you want.” My son passed a class, he spent hours driving around — mainly with his mom — and with an instructor. And then he passed a driving test. But his license — are your license too — is a privilege — it’s not permission to drive however you want.
That’s what grace is like. Grace doesn’t mean you now have freedom to do whatever you want — no — grace comes with new desires — and responsibilities — to follow Jesus and obey his commands.
So even though Paul’s been telling us that the law is not the means to salvation — we can’t dismiss the law either as if it doesn’t matter — it does matter — because the law of love is written on our hearts.
But one final thing. Because God’s law is powerless over sin — you may wonder, “Well if sin has more power than God’s law — does it have more power than God’s grace?” I mean — can we even know if God’s grace is more powerful than sin?
And Paul’s answer is somewhat odd. He says that — by God’s grace — we’ve died to sin. So what does that mean? It means that when you believed in Jesus — when you turned from your sin and turned to Christ — a death occurred — and at that moment you went from living for sin to having died to it.
So think about this — and this has little to do with the sermon but I hope it will be helpful. Most people fear death — even Christians. It’s so unknown. We wonder how much will I suffer? Those kinds of open ended questions can haunt us. But — for the Christian — here’s something to consider. You’ve already died once — you’ve died to sin. Death wasn’t that bad, now was it? So you tell your fear of death “been there done that — doing just fine.”
But back to our death to sin — having died to sin — Paul asks — how can we now live for it? The answer? We can’t. That’s the power of God’s grace. We may choose to sin — but we can’t live for it. The believer — a true follower of Jesus — can’t find satisfaction or joy or pleasure in living for sin — because sin tastes like death because they’ve died to it. What does sin taste like to you?
So our death to sin has a very practical side to it. It means that if you’ve died to sin you’re not only free from the penalty of sin — which Jesus paid on your behalf — but you’re also free from the power of sin — which Jesus has freed you from. And having been freed from sin you’re now to live for righteousness.
And what does that look like?
Well it means some basic things — of course — like reading your Bible — so you know how you're supposed to be living.
It means participating regularly in corporate worship.
It means praying and meeting with other believers outside of the weekend. A great opportunity to do that here at Gateway is in our Life Groups.
Another implication of having died to sin is that this means your public life should match your private life. Your co-workers, classmates, roommates — the people in your life who have different ideas about faith — does the way you live make them think, “Well I can’t say that I believe what you believe. But one thing’s for sure — based on how you live — you believe what you say you believe.”
But — always remember — the source of your power over sin — the source of your death to sin — is the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
So back to our question. Does grace have more power than sin? Absolutely! Because the power of grace comes through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
BAPTISM AND DEATH
Now — let’s connect Jesus’ death with baptism. Verse 3. “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” (Romans 6:3)
OK. So what is baptism and how does it connect to the death of Jesus and our death to sin?
We just had baptisms last weekend here at Gateway. So what were we celebrating in those baptisms? And I want to answer our question by looking in our text in Romans.
So the first observation about baptism — from verse 3 — is that Paul doesn’t view baptism as optional. His question doesn’t leave room for their being an unbaptized Christian in this church in Rome — he says “all of us.” So if you’re a Christian, have you been baptized? If not, why?
But not only that — Paul not only assumes that the Christians in Rome have been baptized — he also suggests that they all understand something about their baptism — that their baptism and Jesus’ death are connected.
So what are the implications of this — Paul saying that our baptism is related to the death of Christ? First, notice what Paul does and doesn’t say here. He says that their baptism points to Jesus’ death — and notice that he doesn’t say anything about their baptism pointing to their faith. Now there are many Christians who believe that baptism is an outward sign of an inward decision — or something like that — where their baptism is a sign about their faith in Jesus — but for Paul — the focus in on Jesus’ death.
Baptism visibly displays how Jesus’ death is the means of our salvation and our freedom from sin’s reign in our life. So when we see someone get baptized — our thoughts should be something like — “Look at the faithfulness of Jesus in dying for the sins of his people. His death has set us free from the reign and rule of sin. And he’s still setting people free today.”
Jesus is the hero of the Bible, right? And he should the hero of your life — if you’re a Christian. Well — if that’s true — why would we expect anyone other than Jesus to be the hero in our baptism?
But this is what Paul’s getting at with the phrase “baptized into Christ Jesus.” A wonderful truth — of our Christian faith — is our union with Christ. Our being joined to him — or being “in him” — is how Paul usually says it.
Where — for the believer — the Holy Spirit has united us with Christ so that we’re given all of the blessings of the salvation Jesus accomplished for us. And our union with Christ means we’re now identified with Jesus — that “united to Jesus” has been sealed on your heavenly passport — or better yet — you’ve been sealed to Jesus’ passport. And baptism is meant to remind us of our union with Christ. That when Christ died and was buried — being united with him — your old, rebellious, sinful self — died and was buried right there in Jesus’ tomb.
And this is why — for instance — you should only be baptized once. You’re only united to Christ once — then your his. You died with him to sin — once and for all. And if this is what baptism is pointing us to — it makes sense — that if your union to Christ and death to sin are one time events — then baptism is a one time event.
Now a disheartening thing — for me — about baptism is that — though it’s supposed to be something that unifies the church — it’s something that has often divided the church. In a letter he wrote to another group of Christians, Paul said, “There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism…” (Ephesians 4:5 NLT)
One baptism that many Christians divide over.
From who’s supposed to be baptized — believers only or believers and their children — anyone hear about a kerfuffle from last weekend’s baptisms?
To what mode of baptism — full immersion, sprinkling, pouring?
To who’s supposed to do the baptizing — ministers only or can any Christian baptize someone else?
To where someone should be baptized — church only, in someone’s backyard, on a Christian tour in Israel?
Here’s my point: We’ve found numerous ways to make “one baptism” awfully divisive — and you thought the issue was just about babies — nah — we Christians can always find a reason for a church split.
Now the point of our text isn’t even baptism — Paul assumes the Christians in Rome already agree on the issue — but — since we got the conversation going last week — let’s talk about baptism some more.
First, baptism does not save the person being baptized. Regardless of the age of the person — here at Gateway — we don’t believe that the act of baptism is necessary for salvation.
You can be saved and not be baptized.
You can be baptized and not be saved.
And we know there are some Christian denominations that do believe baptism is necessary for salvation. Roman Catholics think along these lines with infant baptism. But — did you know there are some Christian denominations — like the Church of Christ — who believe that believer’s baptism is necessary for salvation? So people have erred with both infant and believer’s baptism when it comes to salvation.
Second, we believe that baptism is an act of obedience. You can be saved — and not be baptized — but you’re being disobedient.
Third, here at Gateway we believe that baptism is a sacrament. All that means is — just like the Lord’s Supper — baptism is a sign — meaning it points us to something — and it’s a seal — it promises us something. As a sign — baptism points us to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus — we’ve talked about this — but it’s also a seal.
Baptism is a promise from God to us. What’s the promise? If or when the person being baptized puts their faith in Jesus — and turns away from their sin — baptism is a promise that God is faithful. And he will never turn anyone away from him who comes to him repentant of their sins and trusting in what Jesus has done for their salvation. Now the “if or when” may be throwing you off. “If or when a person believes” especially if baptism — for you — is “this shows that they have believed.”
The story of Simon the magician — in Acts chapter 8 — is helpful here. Simon believes and is baptized — according to verse 13. But when Peter and John show up, Simon tries to buy the power of God from them. To which Peter replies, ““May your money be destroyed with you for thinking God’s gift can be bought! You can have no part in this, for your heart is not right with God. [So listen at what Peter tells Simon to do.] Repent of your wickedness and pray to the Lord. Perhaps he will forgive your evil thoughts, for I can see that you are full of bitter jealousy and are held captive by sin.””(Acts 8:20b-23, NLT)
Now Simon is held captive by sin — so he’s not free from sin — so whatever “believing” he did earlier — doesn’t appear to be true faith. But did you catch what Peter doesn’t tell him to do? For Peter — like two peas in a pod — repent and what always go together? Repent and be baptized. But — for Simon — it’s just repent. Why? Because he’d already been baptized. So no need to repent and be baptized now — it’s just repent — because the “be baptized” part has already been done. Go read the text. You may come to a different conclusion but why else would Peter have not told Simon to repent and be baptized? That’s why we say “if or when a person believes.”
Fourth — and this will be the most controversial — but this is an opportunity for us to practice walking together in love even when we don’t agree on everything. Here at Gateway we practice both believer’s baptism and infant baptism. Now let’s all focus — because your mind may be racing right now after that sentence. First things first. This has been Gateway’s practice before Gateway was even Gateway — meaning way back in the Norcrest days — for all of Pastor Ben’s days as your pastor and even before him — Gateway has been a church that practices believer’s and infant baptism.
Now this past week, we received questions like “Since when has Gateway strayed from believers baptism? This is a fundamental shift in a core belief that needs explanation and justification.” And — though opposition to infant baptism doesn’t surprise me — the misunderstanding of Gateway’s history does. I mentioned this on last week’s podcast, but from the records we have — which the early days of Gateway’s record keeping is a bit spotty — what do you expect when you get kicked out of a denomination — but we have records as early as 2005 of infant baptisms happening at Gateway. Gateway started in 2002. So this isn’t something new — this isn’t something pastor Josh has started — this isn’t a fundamental shift in a core belief — but — I do agree — it needs some explanation because apparently this hasn’t been very clear. So I want to hopefully build some trust with you as we walk through this.
So — first — believer’s baptism — it’s not that divisive. An accusation sometimes made against those who practice infant baptism — is to say they don’t believe in believer’s baptism — and that’s not fair. We practice believer’s baptism here at Gateway — we haven’t strayed from it. If you’ve been around — you’ve seen that.
But what about infant baptism? Here’s a question you may have: If you attend Gateway — or especially if you’re a member of Gateway — do you have to believe in infant baptism — is this something that we’re going to force you?
Now listen carefully to my answer. No.
We know that we have people in our congregation who come from all sorts of church backgrounds. And the historic position we’ve taken here at Gateway — I talked to Pastor Ben about this to make sure I was correct — by the way — but the historic position at Gateway — in regards to infant baptism — has always been to not force the issue on each other’s conscience.
So we don’t force you to believe in infant baptism.
And we don’t force you to not believe in infant baptism.
And let me reiterate that this has been the practice of Gateway since it began. We choose to extend grace to our fellow believers who differ on this issue. Yes — it sure is messy — but grace is worth the messiness.
Now you should know that we’re part of a denomination — and for all of Gateway’s days — have been part of a denomination — and even back in Norcrest days — even though it was a different denomination — this congregation has — for 40 plus years — been part of denominations that practice infant baptism.
Now you’re free to disagree with us — and we know that there are Bible believing Christians who love Jesus — among us — who don’t agree. But — for the sake of unity — the leadership of Gateway has chosen to celebrate when Christian parents want to have their child baptized and we celebrate when Christian parents want to dedicate their child and wait until their child believes before baptism. And we hope you’ll be willing to walk with us even though it’s all a bit messy.
Do we have biblical reason for this very messy position? Yes. We find our reasoning in Paul’s words — which come later in Romans. But I need to give you some quick background. An issue causing division in the church in Rome — was that some of the Christians believed certain foods were acceptable to eat and others weren’t — this was based on the Old Testament law. And some church members thought a particular day was the right day to worship God and others in the church weren’t so convinced. So there’s division — a church split seems inevitable — some were already checking out other church websites to see what they believed about eating meat and which days were right and wrong for worship — well — not really — but you get the idea.
So Paul — tells them to not look down on one another because of these differing beliefs — and instead — he tells them to strive for unity even in the midst of their diverse beliefs. He says. “I know and am convinced on the authority of the Lord Jesus that no food, in and of itself, is wrong to eat. (So Paul has an opinion on the matter — based on authority from Jesus — by the way — which is a significant trump card. But watch what he does. Instead of telling the people he disagrees with to get in line with his way of thinking — instead of even using his authority — he says...) But if someone believes it is wrong, then for that person it is wrong. 15 And if another believer is distressed by what you eat, you are not acting in love if you eat it. Don’t let your eating ruin someone for whom Christ died. (Paul puts the act of extending love on himself — and on the people who agree with him. In love — Paul says — lean in towards your fellow Christians with whom you disagree.) 16 Then you will not be criticized for doing something you believe is good. 17 For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of what we eat or drink, but of living a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18 If you serve Christ with this attitude, you will please God, and others will approve of you, too. 19 So then, let us aim for harmony in the church and try to build each other up.” (Romans 14:14-19 NLT)
And what I hope for — is that we will strive to practice love. That in regards to baptism we will “aim for harmony in the church — trying to build each other up.” Where you have confidence that those of us in authority — no matter what their position on the issue is — that you will see how your leaders extend love towards those who disagree with us. And that you will join us in demonstrating love for one another to a world that’s eager for us to be divisive.
One final thing about baptism. On October 6th — a Sunday night — at 6pm — here at our County Road 9 campus — I’m going to do a special evening teaching on baptism. We’ll have a time of Q&A that pastors Ben and Robert will be participating in. That’s October 6th at 6pm here at our County Road 9 campus.
FREEDOM THROUGH DEATH LEADS TO NEWNESS OF LIFE / CONCLUSION
So — after all of that about baptism — now I have to say — Paul doesn’t even want our focus to be on baptism — or on our death to sin. He wants us to see that God’s grace has offered us something much more glorious than any of that. For in verse 4 we read, “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:4)
After death comes resurrection. That was true for Jesus and it’s true for all who are united to him. Not only did you die with him — but you’ve been resurrected with him to walk — to live — in newness of life. We’ll talk more about what it means for us to live this resurrection life next week.
Death leads to life through resurrection. This means — if you want to live — you first have to die. And for those of us who believe — for Christians — this means that — because we’ve died to sin — we’re now free to pursue godly living, holy living, righteous living. We’re free to progress in our sanctification. We’re free to work hard at showing the results of our salvation — all while knowing — with great comfort and certainty — that Jesus — the One who saved us — has guaranteed that his work of making us holy — will come to completion. Let’s pray together.
Heavenly Father, thank you for your faithfulness to us. You never turn away someone who comes to you in faith. Spirit we ask you to unite us together. In a world full of division — unity is such a testimony to your power in our lives. Where we walk in love — with one another — not because we agree on everything — but because we’re loved by you and love you in return. For as we’re commanded in Scripture, “The one who loves God should love his fellow Christians too.”
Jesus, for anyone who’s burdened by the reign and rule of sin over their life — may you use their burden to draw them to you. Guide them in repentance. Draw them to you in faith. So they joyfully receive the gift of freedom that you offer to all who come to you. It’s in your name that we pray. Amen.
BENEDICTION (PRAY FOR: Can relate to the rollercoaster of “God loves me and he can’t stand me” because of how you live. Come let us pray that you would rest in God’s unconditional love for you.)
May you go living in freedom — having died to sin with Christ. Amen.
God loves you. I love you. You are sent.